After sewing up fifth place in the CHA with last night’s 3-1 win, Air Force didn’t come into Saturday’s game at Wayne State thinking nothing was on the line.
The Falcons scored two goals in the first 2:21 of the game and held on for a 5-3 win over the Warriors, who finished in the CHA cellar on their Senior Night. Forward John May, defensemen Greg Poupard and Steve Kovalchik and goalie Matt Kelly were honored before the game in front of the announced crowd of 626 at the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
With the win, Air Force finishes the regular season with eight CHA wins, a new school record. The Falcons also rebounded nicely after last weekend’s sweep at home to Robert Morris, the team they’ll face in the CHA quarterfinals next Friday in Detroit.
“Friday morning the team got a talking to from (assistant) coach (Mike) Corbett because we weren’t sure they were focused,” Air Force head coach Frank Serratore said. “It was a heartfelt message from a guy that doesn’t talk a whole lot; he’s not a fire and brimstone type of coach.”
The message appeared to be heard loud and clear as Josh Schaffer scored just 76 seconds into the game for an early 1-0 Falcons’ lead. Josh Print threw the puck off the boards to Schaffer, who gained a step on the Wayne State defender and snapped a low shot past Kelly.
Then, 1:15 later, Josh Frider made it 2-0 when he put home a fat rebound of a Jay Medenwaldt shot. WSU defenseman Matt Krug couldn’t clear the puck and Medenwaldt’s took the shot from the slot that was kicked out by Kelly. Frider gathered the puck and sent a bouncer past Kelly for the two-goal advantage.
“Those two goals early definitely set the tone,” Serratore said.
May answered for the Warriors at 12:40 on a WSU bounce. The puck bounced off Print’s skate in the neutral zone, May picked up the loose puck and went top shelf on Air Force goalie Peter Foster to bring Wayne State to within a goal.
“It would have been nice to get a win,” said May. “But it’s nice to get a goal on Senior Night. It was sort of a broken play and I came out with a 1-on-1, got the angle on the “D” and Foster went down so I went over his shoulder.”
But 48 seconds later, Eric Ehn restored the Falcons’ two-goal cushion on a fluky redirection. Andrew Ramsey sent a shot through to Kelly, but it deflected off Ehn’s stick on the way and dropped over Kelly’s stick.
Matt Charbonneau tallied the lone second-period goal at 16:48 when he finished a nice passing play on an Air Force man-advantage. From the top of the right faceoff circle, Charbonneau ripped a shot that Kelly never saw.
In the third period, Dan Iliakis scored on a Wayne State power play at 12:12. In a replay of the first period, however, Air Force responded 22 seconds later when Schaffer netted his second of the game just 17 seconds into Jason Bloomingburg’s high-sticking minor.
“You want to talk about a turning point, well, we had two,” said an emphatic Serratore. “The two times we answered on the same shift to take away their momentum was huge for us. Last night, maybe it was Foster’s save on the penalty shot or the late shorthanded breakaway. Tonight, we got the lead and kept it.”
“We came into this weekend focused on getting two wins,” said Schaffer. “But in the (league) tournament (next weekend), we’re going to need three big wins. We’re on a high right now, so we’ll see what happens.”
Adam Krug scored a late goal at 15:31, but it proved to be too little, too late for WSU (6-22-6, 3-12-5 CHA).
“What a frustrating weekend,” WSU head coach Bill Wilkinson. “I think it was our poorest effort of the season. We couldn’t complete the game. But a fan told me that next week we’re back to square one and that’s a good thing about this. Next week, you might look at our record and think we’re one and done, but you never know.”
Air Force (11-19-1, 8-12-0) got a 26-save outing from Foster and Kelly stopped 22 for Wayne State.
“We now know what it’s like to win in the building where the tournament will be,” said Charbonneau. “This weekend was huge for us after last weekend’s rough stretch.”
Next Friday in the CHA quarterfinals, Wayne State will play No. 3 seed Alabama-Huntsville while Air Force has their date with the No. 4 Colonials.